Friday, December 30, 2016

Special post - birds and wildlife highlights of 2016

This has become a fun tradition, to look back at what I have done this birding year. This is a classic demonstration of the dissonance between my constant feeling that I don't bird enough, and the very clear evidence that I bird far too much for a PhD student, employee, dad...

So here we go:


The year started with an extreme twitch, that was a harbinger of a hardcore twitching year. No more statements 'I normally don't twitch'... My UK birding this year was dominated by twitching. With so little time for birding (honest!) I had to choose well what to do and where to go, and too often I made the easy choice to twitch. A stunning Siberian Rubythroat took up residence in a small Dutch village - a national first. After a couple of weeks that it was porned by all Euro photographers, I couldn't resist temptation anymore, and went on a sleek one-day Euro twitch with Nick and local Gert. And a super day it was:


The main event of the month was a trip down to Dorset, to give a talk to Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group. It was a lovely meeting, and my WP list benefited from this trip with these two I picked up en route - Ring-necked Duck in Berkshire and Ring-billed Gull in Hampshire. Sorry for the crap record shots.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-billed Gull


In the UK, it was a quiet month. However, towards the end of the month I headed over to Israel to join the Champions of the Flyway race for conservation. I was lucky once again to be part of the organizing team - such a great event and super team! I had so much fun with old and new friends from around the globe. And birding in Eilat was nothing short of spectacular

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Sinai Agama

During my short visit I compensated for my absence from Israel by adding two species to my Israeli list - Red-billed Teal and Rough-legged Buzzard:


After COTF, I had a few more days in Israel. One day, or rather night, was spent with Arjan Dwarshuis, who's almost ending his record-breaking Biggest Year in E Asia now. We had a magical evening in the Judean Desert with Nubian Nightjar and Desert Tawny Owl being the highlights.

Back in the UK, April temperatures slowly climbed to something tolerable. But birding was still pretty slow. Towards the end of the month, everyone was going to watch Adders mating. And so did I.


In mid May I went to visit my brother and his family in Vancouver, Canada. It was a brief but wildlife-packed trip. Truly spectacular. Too many highlights to include in this summary, but both birds and mammals made the trip so amazing.

Surf Scoters

Western Sandpipers


Spectacled Guillemot

Humpback Whale

Harlequin Ducks

Black Bear

Later in May a cracking male Firecrest favoured my friend James's garden, and I was invited over for a cuppa and a pap:

Late May half-term holiday was spent with my family in Yorkshire together with close friends Mark and Amity - another tradition. A trip to Yorkshire is incomplete without an obligatory visit to RSPB Bempton Cliffs. It is truly spectacular there. This was not my last visit of the year to Bempton...

Atlantic Puffin

Northern Gannet


In June a rather crazy run of rarities kept me going almost to the year's end. Most twitches were local thankfully, but some were slightly more long-distance... These twitches were characterised by poor photography... First was a Greenish Warbler in Suffolk - a bird I really wanted to see in the WP. So I was very happy to catch up with this one locally.

Followed shortly by the first biggy of the year in the UK, a superb Great Knot at RSPB Titchwell in late June:


Most of the month was rather quiet; at last I could focus on work... A short family trip to Frankfurt allowed me a quick visit to the Natural History Museum there, to collect some data on Nubian Nightjars. Out of curiosity I checked some other skins too, and was amazed to find this mysterious 'black' wheatear, potentially the second-ever known specimen of 'Saxicola syenitica':

Putative 'Saxicola syenitica' (top) with Black Wheatear (bottom)

Towards the end of July I went twitching locally again, this time to RSPB Minsmere for an adult Baird's Sandpiper (again not my last visit of the year to Minsmere):


In early August I ventured slightly further south, this time to connect with the returning Bonaparte's Gull at KWT Oare Marshes Nature Reserve. The yank gull showed really well and I truly enjoyed the reserve - packed with birds.

Another annual tradition was my participation in the British Birdwatching Fair. It was good fun as always, and busy as ever. We launched COTF 2017, and I took part in Bird Brain of Britain competition.
My family summer holiday ended with a trip to almost birdless Switzerland for a week. But scenery was breathtaking:


September was the month everything started... Towards mid month, a high-pressure system settled over Western Europe for several weeks. Its easterly flows straight from Siberia delivered bus-loads of Sibe vagrants to UK shores. It led to an autumn that will surely be remembered in UK birding history as one of the best autumns ever.
In mid September I finally found myself a Greenish Warbler on East Hills, but weather was so bad I couldn't photograph it. 
Yellow-browed Warblers are always lovely. I didn't see as many this year as last, but I did have quite a few including one near my children's school in Norwich, and three ringed with the UEA ringing group at Waxham in late September:


The busiest month of the year. In early October I twitched the Eastern Crowned Warbler at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, found by my mate David. Super bird and brilliant find!

A few days later I found myself in Yorkshire again, joining the crowds to watch England's first Siberian Accentor at Easington. It was a mind-blowing day. My mind was blown away by the numbers of migrants at Spurn, and also by the number of birders and twitchers.

Siberian Accentor with Dunnock

This photo went viral on Twitter:

Later on in October, I was involved in a group-find of Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes. When I say I was involved in a group-find, it actually means that I had screwed up and my mate Dave actually found the bird... At first it was pretty mobile: 

But I did go back for seconds a couple of weeks later, which is rather strange that I did because it's such a common bird in Israel.

There were some other nice birds at Burnham Overy - easterlies throughout the month produced more and more stuff. I really liked this fine Mealy Redpoll:


In early November I thought I could shut down my twitching season after this last bird - luckily another local twitch, the American Cliff Swallow at RSPB Minsmere. It did give us a bit of a run-around, but eventually showed exceptionally well for a hirundine:

One of my favourite birds is Waxwing. As this winter developed, fair numbers of Waxwing made it down to Norfolk. I had some nice encounters with them this season, but I am still waiting for the 'killer shot'. Some birds ringed by UEA ringing group allowed close inspection of their special waxy feather tips. Simply stunning. 

A smart drake Goosander added some quality to the normally dull UEA broad:


And after I had packed my birding gear up for the winter, the Dusky Thrush showed up in Derbyshire. Time for another twitch... What a bird!

My final birding session of the year in the UK was actually pretty good. Another great day out with James and Terry, we had both Red-breasted Goose and Todd's Canada Goose in the same scope view. 

I am now in Israel for a short family holiday. I was hoping to end the year with the potential first Asian House Martin in the WP, but dipped on it. However, it was lovely to be reminded how awesome birding in Israel is.

Black-necked Grebe

That's the end of another year, my sixth year operating this blog. I thank my followers and readers deeply - because of your support I continue writing here. Special thanks to my friends who shared these moments with me, and often drove me... And to my family and bosses who still tolerate me. 

I wish all, my readers and those few who don't read my blog, a wonderful 2017, full of birds, wildlife, love and peace. Happy New Year!

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